Friday, February 19, 2010

PSC | Cortines: “LAUSD SHOULD BE IN CHARGE” - District would run most schools under reform plan

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

02/18/2010 11:02:49 PM PSt - Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines recommended Thursday that the district keep control of a majority of schools that are part of a reform effort allowing outside groups to compete to run campuses.

Cortines' list of suggested operators for the 36 new and underperforming schools would allow outside groups to run 10 campuses. The rest would remain under LAUSD control.

His recommendations follow months of heated exchanges and accusations between the teachers, nonprofit groups and charters that bid to run schools under LAUSD's School Choice reform plan.

The Board of Education is set to decide on Feb. 23 based largely on Cortines' recommendations.

Some applicants hope that the elected officials will push a "bolder" agenda that would transfer more schools to control of outside groups.

"We feel the superintendent has not gone far enough down the road of true reform ... to ensure that all public school students are served by operators that have shown they can get the job done," said Allison Bajracharya, a policy director for the California Charter Schools Association.

Out of 36 schools, charter school operators applied to run 18 campuses. Cortines recommended they receive control of seven - including four that would share space with district-operated schools.

Cortines also gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his Partnership for Los Angeles Schools the thumbs up for two of the four schools that they had applied to manage. He recommended one nonprofit, the San Fernando Valley-based Youth Policy Institute, share control of San Fernando Middle School.

He recommended some of the district plans with "reservations" at schools where no competing bids were submitted.

The superintendent was unavailable for comment Thursday, but in a written statement he congratulated all applicants for their hard work and urged them to look beyond the selection process.

"Let me be clear, the board's vote is just the beginning of the process," Cortines said.

"A plan is just a plan. I expect each team to implement its plan every single day so our academic performance increases, learning environments thrive and ultimately, our students benefit."

LAUSD board member Yolie Flores, who authored the reform plan, said she expected that her colleagues would take the same approach filtering all of their final selections based on the track record of applicants.

Cortines' recommendations are meant to represent the community's input, following a series of advisory votes set up by the district. Those votes showed overwhelming support in favor of keeping schools under LAUSD control - but charter operators, nonprofits and some board members have said the voting process was flawed because it allowed people to cast more than one ballot using different voter categories.

Still, Flores said she was pleased to see Cortines recommend the district continue to operate many of the schools.

"This was never about shutting down the district ... it was about putting a fire under our own people and bringing competition to force them to create better plans and better schools for our kids," Flores said.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, opposes the reform plan and campaigned to keep all schools under district control.

But UTLA president A.J. Duffy on Thursday held back from celebrating Cortines' recommendations.

"We need time to digest this," Duffy said.

Many outside applicants were disappointed by Cortines' choices.

"This whole process was supposed to be about innovation and thinking outside the box, but if at the end of the day they are going to give it back to the district it doesn't seem very much like education reform to me," said Iris Zuniga-Corona, a representative of Youth Policy Institute, which applied for seven local schools.

Among them was San Fernando Middle School - the only existing Valley school selected for takeover.

Cortines' proposal suggests that YPI would run a 400-student semiautonomous school that would be co-located with a larger 1,200 student district-operated campus, run by the current principal.

Other education reform advocates also questioned whether the district's massive reform plan has simply been too watered down.

"This certainly isn't revolutionary change," said Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, which supported the School Choice plan.

"From our perspective, every decision made by the school district has to be filtered through the lens of what is best for kids," Austin said. "This process would not stand up to that test."

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